With most of Chennai hit by a devastating flood resulting in shutdown of the airport and submerging of the roads leading out of the city, Mumbai City FC were stuck in the capital of Tamil Nadu with no means of transportation. The Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata had presented a muted appearance on Thursday afternoon as the Mumbai team could not make it to the city on time.
The visitors would go on to travel over 2,600 km (by road and air) to reach Kolkata on the morning of the game.
Around thirty hours later, the Salt Lake Stadium would once again present a glum appearance with Sony Norde’s winner during the stoppage time silencing a 61,000-plus home support as Mumbai City FC won 3-2 against Atletico de Kolkata.
It was the reverse fixture on 1 November at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai that had served as a turning point of the tournament for both sides. When Atletico de Kolkata had travelled to Mumbai, the defending champions had not won any of their previous three games, while Nicolas Anelka’s side had put together a hat-trick of wins after starting their season with a three-match win-less streak.
Post the 4-1 drubbing in the hands of a ruthless Atletico side, Mumbai City FC did not win any of their next six matches — a sordid stretch of form that eventually saw the Islanders get knocked out against Chennaiyin FC. Antonio Habas’ side, au contraire, lost only one of their next six games as they sealed their semi-final berth.
Discounting the widespread belief that fatigue would be their undoing factor, Mumbai City FC put up an impressive showing — playing with a desire and determination that had gone completely missing in the past few weeks.
“I’m pleased with the players. It was a good reaction. This is what I want from my players, a desire to win and fighting spirit. It was a special win for the players and I’m very proud because it’s our first win away from home ever,” said Anelka after the game.
In a totally inconsequential fixture in terms of qualification for the knock-outs, both sides created a flurry of chances within the first ten minutes. While Atletico adopted their tried and tested formula – a wide forward latching onto a long ball behind the opposition defence and sending in a cross into the final third, Mumbai City FC used Sony Norde’s pace and Selim Benachour’s vision to set up Sunil Chhetri.
There has been a lot of debate about the Indian forward’s best position this season, with Anelkaopting for Benachour as Mumbai’s No. 10 time and again. The Frenchman was at his creative best for Mumbai City yesterday, pulling the strings every time the Machans enjoyed possession.
Although Atletico’s systemic pressing troubled Anelka’s side during the first quarter of the game, the Mumbai City midfielders came onto their own as the match progressed. “Today it was tight. We played well and we were tight. We came here to win. We came without pressure and I felt we deserved to win,” Anelka elaborated.
The absence of Ofentse Nato played right into Mumbai’s hands as the deep midfield duo of Borja Fernandez and Jaime Gavilan failed to provide Atletico’s centre-halves any sort of protection. Antonio Habas, however, dismissed the notion that changes to the first eleven led to Atletico’s downfall.
“We needed more concentration. Mumbai were not under pressure and they played freely. Maybe we put too much pressure on ourselves,” the Spaniard said, blaming external distractions and lack of composure instead. Antonio Habas also affirmed that ‘complacency’ was not an issue for his side. “I like to play day-by-day and on a match-wise basis. The semi-final will be a different game altogether,” said Habas.
On a night when both teams registered a cumulative total of 29 shots, the centre forwards were particularly underwhelming. Chhetri and Hume scored their individual spot kicks, but miscued their shots in a couple of key moments — the Indian missing an absolute sitter in the first half.
Norde was a class above the rest. While his pace and technical ability flummoxed Rino Anto for majority of the game, his composure in front of the goal was the difference between two sides. “He is a very good player. He can do anything. He is fast and clever and I like him as a player. He just needs to work on the defensive aspect of his game,” Anelka said about the Haitian international.
Atletico de Kolkata must now wait for the results of the last two matches to find out their opponents for the semi-finals; for Mumbai City FC, it was a rare moment of joy in another disappointing season — three points which came too little and too late.
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Updated Date: Dec 05, 2015 15:17:32 IST